Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sostig the Pirate

It's Time-Wrecking Time!

Recently I've been re-reading my replica collection of early Albi d'Oro issues. Albi d'Oro was a post-WWII Italian comic book from Mondadori, reprinting features which had first appeared before the war in Mondadori's weekly children's papers. I especially enjoyed issue #199, “Sostig Il Pirata” (“Sostig the Pirate”), which originated in the late 1930s.

I don't know if Ray Bradbury's “The Sound of Thunder” was the first time-travel story to warn of the perils of changing history, but it certainly left its mark upon the genre. Ever since its publication, one hasn't been able to write about time traveling without considering unintended future consequences of things chrononauts do while in the past. Not so “Sostig the Pirate.” Its heroes violate time travel laws with the gleeful abandon of city folk out to teach the rubes a thing or two. The story's audacious disregard for anything but fun makes it an enjoyable romp, a relief from the earnestness of much time-travel literature.


“Sostig the Pirate” was part of an ongoing series called I Conquistatori del Tempo (The Conquerors of Time), scripted by Federico Pedrocchi and drawn by Giovanni Scolari, who had earlier collaborated with Pedrocchi on the legendary space opera Saturno Contro la Terra (Saturn vs. the Earth). “Sostig” is a self-contained sub-story within a larger arc called “Il Fiume del Fuoco” (“The River of Fire”), the second story arc in the Conquistatori saga.

In the first story arc, Professor Everton had invented a means of traveling through time. He enlisted hunky adventurer Trevor to lead an expedition into the past. The professor, his daughter Daly (Trevor's love interest), and a couple of fellow scientists survived a harrowing series of adventures in various eras before returning to the present. Now the professor finds himself a bit short of cash. Ever-resourceful Trevor offers a neat solution:

Of course Trevor forbids Daly to go with him, and of course Daly stows away and goes with him anyway. But more of this in a moment. Since he'll be facing bloodthirsty pirates, Trevor wants to be sure he has the stronger hand. So on his trip into the past he'll be taking along a fully-armed torpedo boat!

Not long after jumping back to pirate days, Trevor discovers that Daly has invited herself along on the voyage. Surprise!

But although Trevor briefly turns into Flash Gordon when he welcomes Daly, this girl is about as far as you can get from the classic Dale Arden clinging vine. She's one tough cookie, a real scrapper, always ready--no, eager--to man the guns alongside the boys. She's also something of a hothead, as we'll see in a moment. But first, the chrononauts rescue a dying ship's captain who was set adrift in a dory after Sostig, a vicious pirate, slaughtered his crew. Before his exile the captain had heard Sostig planning his next attack, plundering a merchant vessel called the Mary-Joan..

The chrononauts have a mission. Their torpedo boat steams full speed ahead, reaching the Mary-Joan just as she's battling three of Sostig's ships. Our heroes flex their muscles and give the pirates a taste of 20th-century steel.

Sostig himself escapes. The time travelers raise their phony sails and head for Maracaibo, “the pearl of the Spanish empire.” Trevor and Daly go ashore to snoop around. They discover a proclamation from the local viceroy offering a 200,000 ducat bounty on Sostig. The loss of the reward irks Trevor. The pair decide to visit a local pub to dig for information. Trevor cautions Daly to avoid trouble, but she laughs him off: “I'm not worried! I was the Olympic women's fencing champion!”

Good thing, too. No sooner have the two seated themselves at “La Posada del Buen Retiro” than a brunette swordswoman greets them and makes eyes at Trevor. In time-honored Dale Arden tradition, the Green-Eyed Dragon immediately bites Daly. But like I said, Daly's something of a hothead:

A brawl erupts and the police arrive to break it up. A one-armed stranger helps Daly and Trevor escape the melee, but eventually they're caught and hauled before the law.

Another donnybrook ensues. The chrononauts and their new ally grab the post commander for a shield and fight their way to the upper floor. They find temporary respite behind a barred door. After gagging and tying the commander, they seek a rear exit. But when Trevor enters one room, he discovers a lovely woman--and gets another surprise.

A rather long flashback fills us in. Pedro, the one-armed man, had been a respected young officer in Maracaibo. Isobel was his beloved. Unknown to Pedro, the post commander also desired Isobel. He appointed Pedro to guard a shipload of pearls bound for Spain. Pedro protested that the course ordered by the commander ran straight through pirate territory. The commander demanded that Pedro obey orders, though he agreed to Pedro's insistence that the orders be put in writing. It turned out that the commander and the viceroy had plotted with Sostig to attack the ship, steal the pearls, and kill Pedro. Sostig would split the proceeds from the pearls with the treacherous pair, and the commander would have Isobel all to himself.

However it didn't quite work out that way. Sostig double-crossed them and kept all the loot. Though the pirate thought he'd killed Pedro, the young officer narrowly escaped death. Pedro lost an arm, but while on Sostig's ship he'd memorized a map showing the location of the pirate's treasure island.

The chrononauts quickly find Sostig's hoard, including the stolen pearls and Pedro's written orders. How about the rest of the treasure? “Of course the pearls are yours, Pedro, so you can complete your mission. As for the rest, we'll return whatever we can return. What's left over we'll divide between us.” Want to bet how much of the fortune was returnable?

Though Trevor's financial woes are at an end, Sostig is still at large. It's time to make him pay. The torpedo boat soon catches up with the renegade. Its deck guns blow Sostig's masts away. Then Daly and Trevor's machine guns feed the pirate crew hot lead until they agree to turn over their captain.

Sostig is gone, but there remains the matter of the traitorous viceroy and post commander back in Maracaibo. Anchoring beyond the range of the forts' guns, Trevor marches into the royal headquarters and demands the 200,000 ducat reward for Sostig--as well as a few other things.

You don't mess with Italians!

The commander sends his strongest warship out to punish the upstarts, but...well...

All's right with the world, Pedro is reinstated and marries his lovely Isobel, the treacherous officers have left town, and except maybe for several hundred dead soldiers and pirates, everyone's happy. On to new adventures!

Yep, they don't make 'em like that any more!



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